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Last Updated: Feb 5, 2010 - 5:39:39 PM
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Writers Contest Runner Up
By Michael Fetterolf
Jan 17, 2006 - 6:37:00 AM

Close Encounter in the Pennsylvania Deer Woods
by: Michael Fetterolf

Pennsylvania ís archery season of 2003 resulted in an experience I will never forget.   I live in Pittsburgh, PA and spend most of my spare time hunting at our camp in Somerset County with family and friends.   This year we decided to spend a full week at the camp searching for a buck.   Most of the week was uneventful with only a few big bucks being spotted, but no shots were taken.
Walking in was a lot more relaxing than walking out.

Friday afternoon of that week, I arrived three miles from our cabin at the backside of our property at around 1:20 pm.   After walking the 400 yards from my quad to my stand, I bumped two deer in front of my tree.   I only saw their backsides, so I wasnít sure if I had blown an opportunity.   As I ascended the tree in my climber, I saw the deer standing about 40 yards away in some thick brush.   I could see antlers, but I didnít know what caliber the buck was.   I continued up the tree and positioning myself on the opposite side to reduce the risk of bumping them again.   After I reached a height of 30 feet, I pulled my bow up, nocked an arrow and sat back to cool off after the walk to the stand.

This was my first hunt in this location. I knew there were fresh scrapes less than 100 yards away, and I had a buck and a doe in the area when I arrived.   After enjoying the calmness for only five minutes, I looked to my left and saw two tails moving toward the scrapes.   These were the deer I saw earlier.   I readied myself as the doe started toward me.   As she got to around 50 yards, there he was right behind her, a magnificent 10-point with wide, heavy, white antlers.   Unfortunately, as the doe hit the 40-yard mark, she turned toward the scrapes and he was in hot pursuit.   At one point, the buck stopped at about 60 yards and glared in my direction.

With his wide rack and bulging neck looking toward me, I wondered if his attention was because he remembered seeing me or did he actually catch my scent.   After a moment, he turned his attention to the doe and ran her through the woods.   I hoped she would eventually bring him back for a shot, but it wasnít to happen.

By now it was probably only 1:45pm, so I figured there was plenty of time left in the day for that buck to make his way toward my stand.   A few hours went past with not much happening.   I had a small 6-point approach from behind, but he needed the opportunity to grow for another year or two.

Evening came and the sun went down.   Daylight faded to what was the end of a beautiful day of hunting.   My thoughts now turned to heading to camp and sharing my experience with that big buck.   However, little did I know it was not time for me to get out of the tree.

I started to prepare for the descent down the tree.   I lowered my bow to the ground and unhooked my safety harness, but then I heard foot steps in the leaves.   I noticed three small black objects moving in my direction.   It was too dark to tell what they were, but I could easily see them moving toward my tree.   Then I noticed a very large black object off to the side at about 30 yards and realized my predicament.   Although up a tree, I was now in between a very large sow black bear and her three cubs.   I have seen dozens of bears while archery hunting over the years, but I never found myself in a situation like this.

The sow kept her distance.   The cubs on the other hand must have curiously sensed something and came toward my tree.   They looking around and sniffed my bow on the ground.   A little unnerved, I decided to give them a little time to see if they would leave Ė they didnít.   They started climbing my tree.

Not wanting to let this get out of hand, I needed to get the cubs to leave and follow their mother before she decided to come to the tree to see what was so interesting.   With the decision made, I jumped on my stand and yelled.   In less than one second, the cubs took off and the sow cleared the 30-yard distance and was now 20 feet up my tree making noises I never knew a bear could make.   The feelings that went through my body as I watched her run like a 2,000-pound cape buffalo are indescribable.   Here I am, three miles from my cabin, in the dark, nobody knows where I am, I have a huge sow up my tree, and I feel like Iím having a heart attack.   That is the loneliest feeling Iíve ever experienced.   

Staring down into her face, I grabbed the rope and pulled my bow back up the tree, not two feet to the side of the bear.   She paid no attention to it, as she was zeroed in on me.   Once I had the bow above the bear, I thought about trying to hit her in the head with it a few times to see if she would retreat, but I decided not to, as she might swat at it and tear it off the rope.   Since this was my only means of defense, I continued pulling it up the tree and immediately nocked an arrow.

Not knowing what to do, I kept yelling and hitting the tree and jumping on the stand, trying to make her go back down the tree.   She would go down two feet and then come back up three feet, then go down three feet and come back up two feet.   At this point, she seemed like she wanted to close the distance, but she was unsure of me.   She decided to go down the tree to think it over.

I felt a large weight being lifted off of my shoulders, only to have a heavier one dropped back on them.   The bear would walk about 20 feet and look back up at me.   Then she would take another five steps and look back up.   Then she would spin around and run straight at the tree and start climbing again.   It would start over and a new set of fears would set in.   

I was 31 years old at the time and I had been hunting for nearly 20 of those years.   I have been close to brown bears in Alaska and gotten personal with elephants and cape buffalo in Africa, but on this day, Iím sure that my voice sounded like that of a scared little boy.   The sow could sense that fear.   She knew that she had nothing to be scared of and she acted accordingly.

At one point, she sat down about 20 yards away and just looked at me.   I figured this might be my only chance to take matters into my own hands.   I figured I was not going to leave here alive unless I killed her first.   With the moonlight, it was always easy to see her body to hope for a shot.   I had three arrows in my quiver with hopes of the first one finding its mark.   A miss or a bad shot could make matters worse, but this may be my only chance to try.

I pulled my bow back to try for a shot and was immediately disheartened when I couldnít keep the arrow on the rest due to my uncontrollable shaking.   I drew the bow back again, and again the arrow just bounced around from my uncontrollable shakes.   All I could do was let down my draw and hope that my body would become numb enough to allow me a shot.   I stood looking over the side of my stand, resting my bow against the rail of my stand.

As I watched the bear, I thought about everyone back in the warmth of the cabin.   This helped me keep still.   However, since I have been somewhat motionless for a few minutes, the sow now reacts even more to my movements.   If I even move a finger, she rises to her feet, and my aching muscles were making it hard to stay motionless.   I didnít know how much longer I could take this.   The old sow had a reaction for every movement I made.   She would sit and watch for a while and then she would stand to circle the tree.   I kept asking myself, ďWhen will this endĒ.

A few minutes later, two of her cubs started crying from the distance.   I hoped that this would convince her that they were safe and that she should go take care of them.   As they cried, she would look in their direction and then look back at me.   She wasnít sure what was more important.   And then it happened.   She started toward one of the cubs and for the second time.

As I breathed a sigh of relief, she did the unexpected and came back with one cub and retook her position watching over me.   The second cub was still crying, so she eventually walked in the direction of the cries.   A few seconds later, she returned with both cubs #1 and #2 and again took her position.   Although some time had passed, she didnít seem at all calmed down.   She would still swipe at the leaves, lean up against trees, and pace back and forth.

A motherís instinct is to keep her young away from danger.   If she thought I was a threat, why would she bring her cubs back into danger?   In all my years of hunting, I have never seen a bear like this.   Her cubs were gone, out of the danger zone, and she goes and brings them back.   I now thought she would never leave.

It wasnít long before cub #3 started to cry for its mother.   The sow waited a while and then took the first two cubs and started in the direction of the third.   The cries stopped and I could hear them moving, but soon the footsteps faded.   I stood motionless awaiting their return.   I probably stood there for fifteen minutes without hearing them.   I knew this was good, but I also knew that it was dark, I was still 30 feet up in a tree, and far from my quad.

I slowly lowered my bow to the ground for the second time.   I prepared my climbing stand for my descent, and then inched my way down the tree.   It took about three times longer than normal to go down, but I didnít want to make any unnecessary noise.   Once on the ground, I unhooked my bow and tried to calm myself.

I started to take small steps in the dark.   Panicking because every step would make noise, I started to run in the direction of the quad.   Over the noise I was making, I couldnít tell if anything was following, but I didnít want to stop.   I eventually found the logging road and followed it back to the quad.

 After getting my quad started, I wasted no time in getting out of there.   I could somehow feel how white my face must have been Ė like I had seen a ghost.   Five minutes into the ride, I reached the top of the mountain.   I had a twenty-minute ride left, but I could feel myself calming down.   I stopped, took a few deep breaths, and looked at the clock on the quad to see that this encounter lasted 75 minutes.   I continued the ride back to camp as I pondered how to explain my experience to everyone back at camp.


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